Bocce is getting the ball rolling with inclusivity

Blake Bailey

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Photo by Blake Bailey

Coach Emilia O’Connor and senior team manager Jomel Velasquez examine a well thrown ball during practice.

When discussing highschool athletics, one’s mind hardly ever goes to the niche game of bocce ball. However, hidden amongst the storied coverage of the basketball, wrestling and hockey season, bocce ball celebrates a rich culture of diversity and inclusivity.

With roots dating back as far as 5200 BC, the sport still manages to retain a fairly basic set of rules. Put simply, a small ball, the pallino, is thrown onto a playing field and the two competing teams then take turns rolling boccia balls in order to see which team can get the closest to the original ball. At the end of each round, the team that rolled the boccia closest to the pallino earns a point. In order to win, players must be strategic when it comes to each of their rolls.

Bocce is unique in the sense that it does not require the athletic technicality that sports such as soccer, football or basketball demand. This opens the door for athletes, who normally would not get a chance to participate, to compete athletically at a high school level.

“To me one of the truly great things about sports is how it can bring people together for the better. Sports give opportunities to all people. I think as a sport, bocce doesn’t get the respect it deserves,” physical education teacher Chad Beswick said.

Bocce is one of three varsity “Corollary” sports offered at WJ. Corollary sport teams look to achieve an approximately even ratio of participants with and without disabilities, increasing interscholastic athletic participation opportunities for all students, in particular students with special needs. Though winless over the course of this past season, there was no shortage of triumphs for the participating Wildcat’s, who learned and grew together on the daily.

“As the season went on students would not just look for advice but suggest a way to play out a throw… students with disabilities learned to better handle the ball in given situations and to trust themselves. It was inspiring to see their smiles after they completed a throw and knew they had improved on something, or had brought the team closer to the pallino… Everyone who played on the team made great strides in learning how to apply strategy and technique to finesse their game, and I really hope they continue on with us and maybe encourage some friends to join in too!” Emilia O’Connor, ASL teacher and head coach of the bocce team, said.

Given the recent Omicron breakouts, fans were not permitted to a vast majority of the season’s events. However, that did not stop the team from giving it their all every week. During practices, the team set their court up in the cafeteria. They then discussed strategy and ran through practice games, often taking dedicated time to refine certain skills and aspects of each throw. This season, the Wildcats fielded a very young team, so improvement is to be expected in the coming years. Season standouts include freshmen Mateo Gonzalez-Dervartanian, junior Taryn Alexander and sophomore William Isola.

“I liked that it wasn’t overly competitive. Of course you want to do well but there wasn’t a lot of pressure to always succeed and seeing the inclusivity that we had was very motivating,” Alexander said.